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Possible cuts at Eastern York schools alarm educators
Eastern York School District is planning to make cuts ahead of finishing its 2017-2018 school year budget, including cuts for some full-time employees that caused concern among board members and employees.
During a 90-minute meeting Tuesday, board members spoke about cuts they are considering for the new school year, including a reduction in full-time positions to save money on benefits.
The board introduced and unanimously approved its proposed final budget, announcing expenditures of $44.37 million, an increase of 1.79 percent, or $780,000, over the 2016-2017 budget.
The board did not decide on the district's revenue stream for the upcoming budget but plans to do so at a board meeting next month.
During the budget and finance committee meeting that took place before the regular voting meeting, board members went over areas that might be subject to cuts, including potential cuts to long-serving members of the district.
Benefit cuts: A cut in hours for 11 classroom and library instructional assistants would save the district about $126,000 by eliminating the requirement for the district to provide benefits, according to Eastern York School District business manager Teresa Weaver.
Among the reductions discussed, the benefit cuts drew the most resentment from board members.
“I just have a problem with that,” said board member Darvin Shelley. He said the cuts would cause negative impacts to community members the district depends on for its success.
“We’re taking it from the little guy and giving it to the big guy,” he said, adding “it’s the stuff you read about.”
Weaver disclosed to board members that they can raise taxes for residents this year up to 6.29 percent if they want to, but if several recommended cuts outlined in a report only given to board members were implemented, according to Weaver, the tax rate would be raised by approximately 3.2 percent. The millage rate for the 2016-2017 school year is 22.43 mills.
“There’s no way (to balance the budget) without a tax increase,” Weaver said.
Shelley retorted that the district's ongoing funding issues cannot be laid completely on the backs of taxpayers.
“We can’t keep putting more taxes on these people,” Shelley said. “We just can’t do it."
Last year, the district raised taxes 6.7 percent from 21.02 mills during the 2015-2016 school year to 22.43 mills as the district's general fund balance dwindled near $1.07 million, amounting to just 2.5 percent of budgeted expenses.
An audit released in July on Eastern's finances found the district's general fund decreased by almost $4.2 million between June 30, 2011, and June 30, 2015.
"Just as individuals should have funds available to deal with emergencies or other unforeseen events," stated an audit finding, "districts should also have funds in reserve to pay for emergency repairs or interruptions to revenues."
Employee reaction: Later in the meeting, Kathy Abel, an instructional assistant at Wrightsville Elementary School, spoke during the meeting's final opportunity for public comment.
“I’m part of the 11,” Abel said, adding that four other instructional assistants were in attendance at the meeting. They did not speak.
“I don’t understand why we’re always the group that gets picked on,” she said. The number of instructional aide staff members has already declined in recent years, from 15 employees to the remaining 11, according to Abel.
She said many of the instructional aides like her would be unable to find new employment because of their age and health.
"Most of us are in our 60s,” Abel said. She said some aides have worked 20 to 32 years with the school district.
“I don’t know where I’m going,” Abel said. “I don’t have a husband to fall back on.”
Aside from an interjection by board president Mark Keller warning Abel not to delve into personnel matters, the board did not respond to Abel's remarks.
Abel also expressed frustration at what she sees as a double standard regarding mentor pay, saying teachers get paid to train new teachers while instructional assistants train new employees with no additional pay.
“It’s a sin that you treat your employees this way,” she said. “It’s sad that Eastern is like this.”
Still, Abel said she and other instructional assistants are dedicated to student success and would like to keep their full-time roles at least until the longer-serving employees can retire.
“I hope you can find it in your hearts to let 11 people keep their jobs,” Abel said.